OK, if we are talking about a journey, Thanksgiving was one of those travel moments when you decided to drive your rental car on a narrow mountainside dirt road and find that the road is full of potholes and you are not sure where you are or if you can turn around. I have to admit I've been in this mountain road situation a handful of times for some reason. There is an undertow of panic and a knowing that you have put yourself into an experience that you may not be able to handle. The only difference between this and the feelings of "the 1st holiday after loss experience" is that the dirt road experience was full of stress, but wasn't infused with a high level of sadness. So the holiday is a double whammy! There aren't any big warning signs like "slow down" or "enter at your own risk" on this grief journey. Even though you know that some things will be uncomfortable, the degree of discomfort is hard to calculate. There is a certain fog that can surround even the most tried and true happy events. Most likely, you find yourself unable to cheer up and enjoy what you would have enjoyed before. Surely this will be a temporary infliction.
Bhante Sujatha says "Bad days bring experience. Both are important. Enjoy the good days, appreciate the bad ones, and keep the courage it takes to live fully."
Courage has always come naturally to me, so I am surprised that it seems so elusive right now. Courage is in my true nature and I know through yoga that it is a constant light within me and my task now is to sit still and reconnect with it. The glow of the inner light is steady, only its surroundings take on different hues. The journey continues as I recognize which locations or settings help me to connect inwardly. It's good to encourage that inner quest by placing ourselves in places that support calm reflection. For me, in Florida, it's the beach. What is it for you? A beautiful sunset is always good. Maybe it's time to set responsibilities aside, relocate to that special place, and have a cup of tea with your inner brilliance.
Is this the journey I signed up for? Is this really my path? I expected something different. Not that I thought everything would be perfect in any way. I just wasn't prepared for this level of heartbreak. Because no matter how many deaths have happened in your circle, you don't actually understand the depths of grief until it happens directly to you (a child, parent, loved one). I've been studying and teaching yoga for 30 years, which is a drop in a bucket when you begin to understand the vast levels of these philosophies. I thought I had a handle on concepts like the witness mind, the universal connection, and compassion. And, yes, the knowledge I have attained has made this grief journey less perilous, however, my mind is blown by the bandwidth of grief and how it takes you beyond all expectations. I've found that something else happens. As painful as the heartbreak of losing a loved one is, it opens the barn doors of the heart to reveal an awareness of what life really is. It's as if I was just reading the cliff notes prior to this loss. Realizing that there could be a tendency to shut down around the heart in a protective way, the opposite can also start to happen. Actually, I think that the opening of the heart may happen on some level for everyone, but it seems easier to turn away from it than to comprehend it. Some days I allow the compassion to wash over me and other days, I shut down. At some point I hope to find a balance in between.
I believe that any way you look at it, when that balance point is found, it will support me in leading a rich life with a new understanding of love. But, you see, I have just hopped on this train and the journey ahead is extensive. There is a lot to learn and that's ok. A break is often the beginning of growth like the shell of a seed cracking to make way for the young seedling.
Oh, did I tell you? I'm not young. The majority of my life has been rather protected as I dodged many dangerous situations with dexterity. I was fairly convinced that my fate was to live fully, sometimes close to the edge, but always swerving back to center. Yes, I was pretty sure of that.
What a surprise to find my loved one on the ground, 10 years younger than me, surrendering to death from a heart attack. Is this real? I understand it is typical to think that your loved one may show up, walking through the door to the greeting of "OOH, there you are!". Eventually the fantasy of this subsides as we get glimpses of a new way of living.
I'd like to share this journey with you, if you don't mind my direct references to the reality of heartbreak. We can break open together and explore new sensations and some comprehension of the calling that keeps us moving forward.
Val Spies, Lotus Pond Yoga Studio owner and Yoga Teacher training director.